Actual Play – The Vacant Throne (4/5/2010)

GM: Travis Lindquist
Players: Sean, Eric, Omar, Steve, Tracy, Chris and Alec
System: L5R

The search began in earnest! As the Topaz Championship ended Otomo Koreno called us together once more ostensibly to congratulate us.

What’s on Rei’s mind.

The Lion knows no fear
Ancestors give her courage
A Lion I will be

Our host called us to attention. I had thought to thank us. At an event as public as the Topaz Championship, she might as well have asked us to hide Lord Sun. It is good that I held my tongue.

Our reward was in fact a task. Were it not such an important one I would have turned her down. I serve Kisada, The Lioness Legion and Lord Nadu. Three masters are quite enough, without adding a daimyo’s bride to my list. Her request, however, was not one that can be turned down. The Emperor is missing. The son of heaven wears a mask is lost from the Empire as my honorable ancestors hide from me. It is our duty as Samurai to find the Emperor and restore him to the throne. I will not fail.

Flashback to earlier in the day, back when the magistrates thought they had finished their job and were relaxing some.

Washichi was approached by the persistent cadre of ronin who placed well enough at the tournament to gempuku. He attended their naming ceremony and offered them all entry level (read: bus boy) positions as ronin under the employ of the Miya.

Shinji and Ryo attended the crab gempuku. Shiji blesses the ceremony.

Rei spoke with the new Topaz Champion who she is curious about.

I was invited into the foul smelling barbarian den to speak with the new champion. The girl at least had the dignity to greet me fully clothed rather than naked sleeping beside her steed. She did, however, attempt to initiate some barbaric touching ritual. May Fu Leng take her! Touching fingertips!

She is intelligent though and learned sincerity somewhere. The judges spoke highly of her and I am not one to question a sensei. She has knowledge of customs, poetry, battle and skill with her sword. Whether these came from hours or training and practice or some vile maho ritual involving breeding with her steed, I’m still uncertain.

So I will learn of this girl. If she is truly the exception of her people, and a worthy Champion, perhaps she will be the one to show the Khan of his own arrogance. It would be Karmic justice it were her own blade that delivered him to Emma-O. If she is a maho who has fooled the judges whilst the Emperor’s wisdom was absent, however, I will kill her myself.

We agreed to correspond, that we might know each other better. I will start by sending her a treatise on Bushido and see where her loyalties stand in accordance with Akodo’s code.

Shiko spent time recruiting new Sapphire Magistrates. Many of the Shiba, young men and women who had suffered from attacks by the Red Dawn gladly signed up as they would finally have their chance to exact their vengeance. While there Shiko noticed a Sodano who was conspicuously avoiding him. Shiko approached the young man and found that he had a great hatred for Shiko for giving up the Sodano name and becoming Shiba.

Tso-Lou tracked down a drunken Ryo and asked him to make him a pair of swords to use in his travels such that his ancestral blades could be preserved and passed down to his son. Ryo agreed but asked in turn that Tso-Lou make some introductions for him to certain affluent connections.

Flash forward again. Our assignment: Find the Emperor and preserve his Empire while he is gone.

New Mechanics Introduced

Travis crated ad map of the empire, which we mounted on the wall”

Wow, sorry that is an ugly picture. If you can make out the pins (stuck mostly in Scorpion lands) these are areas of strife (military, civil or religious). It’s our job to travel the Empire and stop the damage to the empire so that it doesn’t break out into great conflicts (war, rebellion, heresy).

Each “turn” represents a month of in game time where we have four scenes (most likely this will be shortened to three) each representing a week of our efforts to stamp out the turmoil.

So far it is unclear if grouping up together or going alone is the most “effective” option for the meta game, but going with another player character certainly has been a lot more fun for me than being solo.

The First Month.

Tso-Lou traveled to the Dragon Lands and climbs a long way up the mountain until he finally finds Mirumoto Uto, the sensei who he was to duel after the Topaz Championship. Uto was very impressed that a Lion would travel so far up the mountain to duel him. They showed each other their stance and he bowed deeply to Tso-Lou “The Lion who would climb the mountain has much to teach the Dragon.” His honor appeased, Tso-Lou and Uto retreated inside to share rice, kind conversation (including a discussion of Tso-Lou’s departed friend Al-Saleen).

Rei and Ryo traveled into the crab lands to stop the border skirmishes going on between the Crab and the Scorpion. Rei finds a would be assassin who infiltrated the crab and was going undercover as a Hiruma scout. She spilled his life’s blood but was not wary enough. Her enemy Yogo Toju snuck up and shot a poisoned dart into her leg causing her to collapse on the ground and empty her stomach. He doused her in sake and then disappeared, leaving the Hida that found her to think that she had become so drunk she killed a fellow crab. With great effort Rei stood and claimed her loyalty was beyond reproach. Begrudgingly they looked at the crab and realized that he was not one of theirs. The Hida laughed “Good job Lion… next time just learn how to handle your sake.” Meanwhile Ryo spoke with the Crab armies to find out why the Scorpion were attacking. It turned out they were going after a jade mine that, if lost, would be a setback for the Crab and would distract them, allowing Scorpion to sneak into Crab territories – no doubt in attempts to assassinate the Great Bear

Shimizu and Washichi traveled east to the Sparrow holdings where Shimzu found his clan full of enmity for him. Apparently after he left Benten cursed the Sezume with famine. Desperate to help his small clan the Daimyo took an offer of koku from another clan. Some of his own samurai however, did not believe this was done in the best interest of the clan and now seek to overthrow his rule. What’s worse, they kidnapped Shimizu’s wife (a.k.a. the Daimyo’s daughter) and are holding her hostage. None of this would have even been revealed to Shimizu, had it not been for Washichi’s efforts. He spoke with the Daimyo and entreated him to give his wayward son another chance.

What rocked

I’m defiantly digging the Act 2 core mechanic. It’s a very Pandemic style game but it hasn’t become so tactical that we are forgetting to do the meaty bits (you know the actual role-playing parts). I like the idea of an Empire going towards ruin and a handful of magistrates scrambling around to try and keep things stable.

The meeting with the Utaka was a bit awkward at first but I’m pretty interested in what she’s all about. Travis is determined to make a character that will challenge Rei’s belief about the Unicorn and I think he’ll succeed. I, in the mean time, am having a good time playing up Rei’s hatred of the unicorn (as seen in her portrayal above).

The Sezume scene really asks the question of where a samurai’s loyalty lies. As a player, I’m pretty sure Steve doesn’t want to retire her character to a mundane life as the Daimyo’s son. But by abandoning his clan so thoroughly he’s faced with the ugly truth that they won’t prosper into the next generation without his leadership. Tough choices.

Yogo Toju is awesome. The poisoned dart was a lot of fun. As was the potential implication that Rei killed one of the crab. Rei has been eating a lot of shit for being loyal to Kisada (kidnapped son, appearing a thief at the Topaz Champion, and a sworn enemy amongst the Scorpion), which not only do I love as a player, but hopefully will earn Rei some kudos in his eyes in the future. I’d like to see what her breaking point is. How much will it take to make her turn on her lord? I’m not sure I know yet.

Travis plays a damn good Dragon. Much better than I do. Part of that is the fact that his Dragon are NPCs which means they can be as cryptic as they want to be and players just have to deal with it. But a big part is that he has a better understanding of the kinds of mysteries they are contemplating all the time. Because of this I really liked the somewhat independent conversations Oku and Tso-Lou were having about wisdom, swordsmanship, etc. They were both talking to each other, but I’m not sure that they understanding the same things. Just as it should be with the Dragon.

What could have been improved

I love my ancestors haunting me but the actual role-play value of them has hit a cap. They taunt me, I resist. Sometimes in very embarrassing ways. That’s all good but I’d like to see something more substantial come from that. I think they need names and specific dishonorable acts. Travis and I have talked about them a little bit, but haven’t come to an conclusion. I want to work this bit out so I can call them by name and so that Travis can tie in their own shameful actions with the ones Rei is taking.

We didn’t get through as much as I would have liked, only five scenes out of the 24 that will be in a month (six players times four scenes). Part of this was because the first half of the game was spent finishing the Topaz Championship and explaining the game mechanics for Act 2. Also, Travis has talked about reducing the scene economy to three scenes per month (giving a week for travel time). Finally, I think as we get more familiar with the system, we’ll move along quicker. I’ve very hopeful that in a few weeks we’ll be burning out one month per session.

Like Pandemic I think we could use resource cards. I think it would be neat if we wanted to put out certain fires but couldn’t because of resources. Alternately, I think it would be great if we had things like “The Emerald Magistrates bring Peace.” A card that we could play (like one of the special cards in Pandemic) that would have someone else talk a particular outbreak. Not sure if this would make it too “gamey” but it sounds fun to have cool cards with cool powers that only work in the context of Act 2’s meta-game. Maybe personality cards could do something like this… hmm…